Europe – Day 1

19-Mar-2011 11:02, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 9.784mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 160
 

Some client work in EMEA landed me in London yesterday. Though the flight left an hour and ten minutes late, the tail wind aided in getting us to a just 15 minutes late landing. The Heathrow airport needs to be better designed for international travelers. It was a 20 minute walk to Immigration. Eager to exchange the dollar for the Pound, I paid 1.40 for each greenback, knowing the real exchange rate was around 1.80. Later I was to find out that on the streets in London, I would have gotten nearly 20 pence more for each dollar.

19-Mar-2011 11:03, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 8.898mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
 

I knew I had to catch the train to center city London, but didn’t know it was another 10 minute walk to the Piccadilly line. Lugging along my heavy carry-on and the heavier laptop bag, this was a stretch after a long flight. The underground, as it is called, or in particular, the train was crowded for a Saturday morning. It reflected the true cosmopolitan nature of London – people of every country from Europe, Asia and America I could see. At first thoughts, when you speak to anyone upon arrival, I seemed to sense a bit of sarcasm and amusement for a person tired and asking some basic information. This was very evident at the information booth at the Heathrow underground. Anyway, after about 45 minutes ride and changing to the Bakerloo line at Piccadilly Circus, I got off at Charing Cross – closest to my hotel.

Charing Cross gets out very near Trafalgar square. After the lesser sights on the train journey, getting off the train was a relief. The train had taken me through parts of the city that reminded me of a developing country and a bit like the sights in Mumbai with open junkyards and neglected gardens. Well, New York is not much different anyway. The buildings didn’t get anywhere close to what I had imagined of architecture rich London. But getting off the station and into Trafalgar square changed everything else. The center was buzzing with people, cars and buses constantly streaming by. And lots and lots of people, mostly tourists.
19-Mar-2011 11:25, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.5, 30.5mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 80
 

If you are used to the streets in the US, making out the names of the streets in central London is a challenge. They go something like A and I couldn’t see the markings at all. So I had to guess where Strand Street was and it took me about a mile walk to get to a place that was 0.4 miles from the station. Google Maps on the blackberry doesn’t help much if you get no sense of orientation.

The Strand Palace Hotel has an imposing stone façade with that complements other nearby buildings. You would expect to walk into a hotel foyer and expect to see the lobby. The Strand had the lobby much to the deep left after entering. The front desk person couldn’t change my reservation and I had to call and have a conversation with the reservations. After 15 more minutes, I was in my room. It was very warm if not hot. I took a brief nap and headed out. That was the beginning of a great change.
I walked along Strand back to Trafalgar square. The square was still teeming with people. The memorial lion had a few riders all the time. I headed towards the nearby Admiralty Arch and along The Mall. Then, I strayed onto St. James Park and ended up near the Churchill museum and along Great George street onto Parliament square. After a bit, I saw a golden clock rising high over buildings. It had to be the Big Ben. By this time, the sun was down and the gold from the nearby Parliament building was shimmering in the sunlight. An excellent latte and a muffin from Café Nero made up for my lunch. The Big Eye – huge Ferris wheel – is close by just across the river close by. I didn’t have the mind to cross the river. I turned back and my next stop was the Westminster Hall. I believe this is where the British Parliament convenes. The building is just out of the world with such intricate work that is simply mind-boggling. I couldn’t get enough of the building on my camera.
19-Mar-2011 11:39, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.5, 12.074mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 80
 

The G12 is a great small package, though in Auto mode at least, the distortion is pretty high for scenes that fill up its screen. The gate, also called the Sovereign’s entrance is another out-of-the-world architectural wonder. The place is fit for Gods and not for Kings, let alone men – such is its beauty!! It was getting dark now and though I wasn’t ready, it was dinner time in London. I searched for Indian restaurants and found Quilon, which was supposed to be outside Buckingham Gate. A restaurant outside the palace, I thought should be exclusive. Little did I know that Buckingham Gate was a road, though in the vicinity of the palace. It was about 20 minutes or so walk on Victoria Street and a turn. The restaurant was very close to the Crowne plaza and the Taj. It had no menu displayed outside and I didn’t want to venture onto an expensive place. So I headed back onto The Mall.

It was a chilly evening and it took me another 30 minutes to get past the Strand and into the town behind – the Covent Garden. The place is an entertainment district and the travelers were all in a noisy, merry mood after dinner I guess. I couldn’t find any place that was vegetarian friendly. Finally as I was about to head into a Burger King of all places, I saw Woodlands –A Vegetarian restaurant. The place was very good and the London Royal Thali at 19 pounds, though expensive, was what my hungry self wanted. I just couldn’t finish all the food. The masala dosa and the uttapam took their space inside my tummy and I had to forgo most of the rest of the food. Back to the hotel and knowing I had a Sunday ahead, I had a long sleep.

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